The commentary of the cover
The Fulfilment of Scripture by Pierre-Marie Dumont
Carlo Maratta († 1713) is well known to the covers of Magnificat, where the quality of his painting, the charm of his subjects, and the depth of his theology are a wonder. On the cusp of Baroque and Rococo, he brings back to life the charm of Raphael while at the same time heralding the sumptuous distinction of Tiepolo. In this intimate scene, his Virgin Mary is visibly full of grace! Seated with her Child on her knees, Mary reflects in her heart on the Word of God she has just read in the little book held open in her left hand. Her gaze rests upon the Child Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist. In fact, what the Mother of God contemplates in these two toddlers who seem to be playing together is nothing less than the fulfilment of Scripture, as revealed in the foreground by the cup lying on the ground that will be used to pour Jordan’s water over Christ’s head at his baptism. But the realization of the hope of the world will come through another baptism, one much more dramatic: that of the Passion. Thus this charming family scene implicitly foreshadows that a sword shall pierce the heart of the Mother of God.
At the center of the pyramidal composition, the only active person, the Child Jesus, holds out his hand to assume to himself the ultimate prophecy inscribed on the phylactery unfurled by John the Baptist: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). Here is John, bearing the staff of reeds that suggests the answer to the question of his unique mission at this turning point of the old covenant and the new: What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? (Mt 11:7). He is Elijah, the one who is to come. Whoever has ears ought to hear! (Mt 11:14-15). Whoever has eyes ought to see: this is a cruciform staff, warning of the manner, both tragic and sublime, by which sin will indeed be taken away from the world.
Mary with Child and Saint John the Baptist as a Boy (1704), Carlo Maratta (1625–1713), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. © akg-images / Erich Lessing.